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ZipCar attractive alternative for students

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | JULY 17, 2012 6:30 AM

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Beginning in September, the city of Iowa City and the University of Iowa will introduce 10 ZipCars into the community. The City Council's unanimous decision to approve a three-year contract with ZipCar Inc. on July 10 provides an overwhelming number of benefits for members of the Iowa City community.

A ZipCar is a fuel-efficient vehicle provided to universities and businesses for their students and employees to share.

Unlike most conventional car-rental agencies, ZipCar allows members to pay an hourly fee to use any one of its cars. Prices are around $8 per hour depending on the model of the car and whether it's a weekday or weekend, plus a $25 yearly subscription fee.

However, the hourly rate pays for more than just car use. It also includes the price of gas, insurance coverage, and up to 180 miles of driving distance per day. The cars get roadside assistance, and if the savings aren't enough, the environmental friendliness adds a great amount of appeal as well.

ZipCars are energy-efficient and according to the ZipCar website, "Each and every ZipCar takes at least 20 personally owned vehicles off the road."

Depending on how popular the service is in its first three years, the City Council has allowed the option for a two-year extension for the program.

The City Council was wise in deciding to try car sharing in Iowa City because owning a car is increasingly expensive, and the opportunity to share may prove to align with the interests of community members, especially students.

The current issue is that there are nearly twice as many students as there are parking spaces, provided by the University of Iowa Parking and Transportation Services, so every student could not possibly have a spot on campus at the same time. This campus community is also all too familiar with the hassle of parking tickets and fees — which are not cheap. Having a car on campus can be impractical for many, and that's a growing trend nationwide.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, transportation is the second-largest category of spending, and the Iowa Farm Bureau further estimates that Iowans spend as much as 17 percent of their income on cars, gas, and vehicle maintenance. But some of those costs could be averted through this car-sharing program.

At a certain point, some parents and students realize that having a car on campus isn't really worth it, but having access to a car is still necessary. When there is a demand for a service, we can count on some winning entrepreneur to provide it, so here's to ZipCar.

Some opponents may argue that there is no need for a company such as ZipCar because there is already a free campus bus system, and many things a student could want are within walking distance from the center of campus.

One also might argue that using a ZipCar also has limited applications. For example, a student might not want to go see a movie and have the car eat up money while sitting in the lot not being used for hours.

But the benefits outweigh the negatives. Getting a ride back home could no longer seem like such an inconvenience for students who don't have cars, because ZipCar also allows its members to reserve cars for whole days or entire weekends at a time.

Being able to reserve a car on campus would be a huge advantage to out-of-state students, as well as families not enthralled by the idea of sending a car to school with their child. Because you only need to be 18 years old to become a member, many university students would have no problem taking advantage of the car-sharing program.

The cars are appealing because they are easy to acquire, and they have all the same benefits of a personal vehicle, with a reduced cost, and increased convenience. No trips to the gas station, no waiting for a bus, no worries about overnight parking, and no fees for a car that gets very little use during the semester.

Even if this system isn't right for everyone, it will likely be very attractive to many in Iowa City, so bring them in.


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